Bruges


Yesterday afternoon and evening we strolled through the town and today we packed in a lot of exploring and looking at art.  So a little history to start.  This city which is reduced to a very small historic district surrounded by a much larger city is a tourist destination for sure.  Once again resolved never to travel in Europe in the summer.  It’s crowded by manageable.  The name of the town comes from the Viking word for wharf.  From the start Bruges was an important trading center. In the 11th century it became wealthy based on it’s cloth trade.  Lace and tapestry still abound though mostly in souvenir shops tucked in among the 600 Belgian Beer shops, chocolate shops, and every chain store from the US and other parts of Europe- it’s always a puzzle to me why you would leave home just to drop in on the H & M store in Bruges?!

By the 14th century the town’s population had grown to 35,000 as large as London at the time.  Because of its location it was the middleman in the sea trade between Northern and Southern Europe.  In the 15th century while England and France were killing each other in the Hundred Years’ War Bruges became a popular place to live for powerful French families.  Needless to say commerce and art thrived.  The artists Hans Memling and Jan van Eyck lived here.

But by the 16th century the harbor had silted up and the economy collapsed.  The French went home, Belgium became part of the Habsburg empire and Bruges’ Golden Age came to an end.  For many years it was considered a dead city.  In the 19th century a new port revived the city and by the 20th century tourists discovered the town.  It is a uniquely well preserved Gothic city and actually it’s not the worst place to be a tourist, especially if you stick to the side streets.

One of the first squares you come to upon entering the old part of Bruges (St. Stevinplein)
One of the first squares you come to upon entering the old part of Bruges (St. Stevinplein)
The Markt Square is supposed to be one of the most enjoyable town squares in Belgium. As you can see it's quite lively.
The Markt Square is supposed to be one of the most enjoyable town squares in Belgium. As you can see it’s quite lively.
The post office was rebuilt in the 19th century to out Gothic the Gothic style.
The post office was rebuilt in the 19th century to out Gothic the Gothic style.
Peaked and crenellated roofs along the canals are a hallmark of the Flemish style of architecture.
Peaked and crenellated roofs along the canals are a hallmark of the Flemish style of architecture.
This building had the date 1675 on the front.
This building had the date 1675 on the front.
And here are some renovated, reconstructed, and brand new architecture that all fits very nicely together.
And here are some renovated, reconstructed, and brand new architecture that all fits very nicely together.
These houses really make you feel as though you've gone back in a time machine to about the 1300s.
These houses really make you feel as though you’ve gone back in a time machine to about the 1300s.
The houses are along canals that run through the town center and have quite a few resident swans to add to the charm.
The houses are along canals that run through the town center and have quite a few resident swans to add to the charm.
Seeing the city from the water was an interesting perspective showing the variety of structures.
Seeing the city from the water was an interesting perspective showing the variety of structures.
A friendly face in the window. On the way back he (or she) was fast asleep.
A friendly face in the window. On the way back he (or she) was fast asleep.
Shops and restaurants along the main canal.
Shops and restaurants along the main canal.
One of the canals has been dammed at the end to create a "Lover's Lake" where there are 100s of swans and ducks.
One of the canals has been dammed at the end to create a “Lover’s Lake” where there are 100s of swans and ducks.
Church steeples and a bell tower dominate the skyline but it also helps orient oneself as to where you are in the narrow alleys.
Church steeples and a bell tower dominate the skyline but it also helps orient oneself as to where you are in the narrow alleys.
This arch has golden statues of one of the city's prosperous families from the city's Golden Ages on Blind Donkey Street.
This arch has golden statues of one of the city’s prosperous families from the city’s Golden Ages on Blind Donkey Street.
Going further afield for some quiet exploring we found the Lace Center where we saw beautiful lace from the 19th century to now. Yet again another church tower.
Going further afield for some quiet exploring we found the Lace Center where we saw beautiful lace from the 19th century to now. Yet again another church tower.
And as is usually the case in a place where everything closes at 5 pm the best time to stroll is at night and the town sparkles.
And as is usually the case in a place where everything closes at 5 pm the best time to stroll is at night and the town sparkles.

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